By Samantha Gillis
Your feet are throbbing, each muscle is wailing in agony. The pain has come to stay, but there is still three quarters of a mile left in the race and you must pick up the pace to clinch first. All your mind can do is attend to the blistering pain that is shooting up your legs—you must distract your mind and endure. Divert your mind, perhaps by counting.
“For a 400 meter sprint up the hill it’s about 147 steps. Or is it 247-some steps?” said Amy Pierson, nursing junior.
“No it has to be 247,” said Alyssa Carter, philosophy & religious studies senior. “(Pierson) counts all the time,” said Carter.
“It helps,” said Pierson. “Sometimes I count to 100 and then count how many times I have counted to 100 during our long runs when the pain really kicks in.”
Pierson has been running long distance since about the sixth grade. “That is when I ran my first race,” she said.
Once she got to high school, a friend asked her to join the cross country team. “She thought I’d be really good I guess,” she said, laughing. “I thought, ‘Oh cool, cross country. That sounds fun,’ not knowing what the heck it was. Then I was kind of stuck since I already committed to the team.”
Carter got her start a little differently. “I played every sport in junior high, so that’s how I got started in cross country.” She wasn’t planning on running in college but her cousin, Kate Topham, class of 2009, talked her into meeting with Jim Helmer, head cross country coach. “He was really encouraging,” she said. So she kept her running shoes laced up for college.
In the winter when the team switches to the indoor track season, the game changes a bit. “The stagnant air is definitely harder to breathe,” Carter said. “In fact after running at any kind of speed you get the taste of blood in your mouth, your throat hurts, and I tend to do a lot of coughing for a couple days.”
Since long distance running allows so much time for runners to roam around in their minds there is a lot at stake if your mind decides it wants to take the day off. “Out of all the sports I have played, cross country is the most mental,” said Carter, “partly because you have to rely completely on yourself. If you are not playing very good in other sports you can just pass the ball to someone else who is having a good game, but in cross country you are it. You can’t pass anything off,” said Carter.
“Those days when you are just not having a good day you really have to psych yourself up for the meet,” said Carter. “Psych up by repeating a phrase or a word.”
Pierson will sometimes say the word rejoice when the team is in a huddle. “I like when you say that, rejoice,” said Carter. “It reminds me that we are here for a higher reason and everything here is just temporary. If I am not having a good day I will say, ‘Hey God you know if you want me to run good today please help me,’” she said.
“Yeah, I like rejoice too,” Pierson said.
Andrew Topham, biochemistry junior, has a different approach to combat his mental blocks. “I sometimes read a book before races if I become too nervous,” he said.
Doing well in a race isn’t the only thing long distance runners have to worry about. On the indoor track there are other hazards that don’t occur during the outdoor season. “During cross country season there isn’t a chance that a stray pole vaulting bar will come flying out onto the track and hit you in the head in the middle of a race,” said Topham.
Despite what some may believe, running isn’t always fun for long distance athletes. Pierson said, “Sometimes you are running and you are just like ‘why?’ But once you are done it’s so incredible. You feel so great, like ‘yes I just completed that.’”
Occasionally when people finish races they experience something called a runner’s high. “It’s difficult to explain. It is like you have just completed a remarkable task and you feel on top of the world,” said Carter. But this sensation does not happen often. “You’re lucky if you experience it,” she said.
In fact, Topham could not recall ever experiencing a runner’s high. “I have no idea—I mean you always feel good after a race. But maybe it’s just because the pain stops and you feel as though you have accomplished something,” said Topham.
For Pierson, who has experienced it, she said the runner’s high is like extra energy. She said, “You kind of get a second wind, like ‘yeah, let’s do that again.’”
“And then 10 minutes later you are like, ah I need a bed,” said Carter. However Carter and Pierson agree you do not run for a runner’s high, it is just a bonus if it happens.
So for those who may think long distance running isn’t a true sport, Pierson and Carter have one thing to say to them.
“Come run with us,” said Pierson.
“Yeah, anytime,” said Carter.
Samantha Gillis is a junior majoring in journalism. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.